Salt Lake City's growing diversity — highlighted by the fact that over 50 percent of all children in the Salt Lake City School District are ethnic minorities — hasn't worked its way into city politics yet.

Tuesday, the day after the deadline for candidates to declare their candidacy, political gurus in the minority community were left scratching their heads as to why minority candidates continue to be in short supply.

"I'm disappointed that there aren't more running," said Molonai Hola, a Tongan who ran for mayor in 2003. "I know there are four seats up, so I sure would love to see more candidates run from our minority community."

Utah's capital is assured to continue to have an all-white City Council as 17 Caucasian candidates and no ethnic minorities filed for the four vacant council seats. The lack of ethnic diversity comes despite Mayor Rocky Anderson's call for a more diverse council earlier this year.

The situation was especially confusing in District 1, which is dominated by the Rose Park neighborhood — one of the most ethnically diverse places in Utah. There, five white candidates are running, including two-term incumbent Carlton Christensen.

"I'm really surprised that there aren't any people of color running out there," said Carol Goode, a black woman who ran for the District 4 City Council seat in 2003. "If I lived in Rose Park I would run."

According to census data and enrollment figures from the school district, Hispanics are by far Salt Lake City's largest minority group. The district reports that 35 percent of all students are Hispanic, far ahead of the second-largest minority group, Asian, at 5 percent.

Still, it's believed that many Hispanics are ineligible to run because they are illegal aliens. School district figures show that 80 percent of all Hispanic children are "English as a second language" students, which means they come from homes where English isn't the primary language.

Other estimates put the city's undocumented Hispanic population at 45 to 52 percent, according to former City Councilman Lee Martinez, who now runs a polling company aimed at Hispanics.

That said, there remain thousands of potential Hispanic candidates who could run in Salt Lake City.

Martinez, who was appointed to fill a vacancy in the council by former Mayor Deedee Corradini and then lost his succeeding election bid, says minorities don't run because they usually lose.

"They're numerical minorities and unlikely to win," he said. "If the majority is other than you, the majority is likely to win."

Also, ethnic minorities have historically been ignored and therefore don't have many political connections or knowhow, he said.

Longtime community activist Archie Archuleta says one issue is that Hispanic candidates, and other minorities, often target state legislative races, not city races. Case in point is former state senator Pete Suazo, current state representative Ross Romero and longtime representative Duane Bourdeaux.

"We looked in District 1 and nobody seemed to be willing to run and it's hard to figure out why. It's a difficult thing to analyze," Archuleta said. "We're disappointed because District 1 and District 2 are high minority areas, especially for Hispanics."

To combat the problem, Archuleta says the Salt Lake County Democratic Hispanic Caucus is looking to get more minority candidates interested in municipal races rather than only state contests.

"From the Hispanic caucuses point of view, we need to diversify running, that is, running in more local-type races rather than just the Legislature," he said.

On the Republican side of the aisle, Salt Lake County Republican Party Chairman James Evans criticizes county Democrats for not recruiting minority candidates.

Anderson, one of the most well-known Democrats in Utah, and county Democratic chairwoman Megan Risbon, both said before Monday's filing deadline that they were recruiting candidates to run for City Council.

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"The Democrats are the ones that keep championing diversity, so why haven't they gone out and recruited minority candidates?" asked Evans, the first black man to chair the county Republicans. "It's another example of paying lip service."

Goode, a Democrat, maintains minorities need to support each other even across party lines. That's what happened in 2003 when Hola, a Republican, donated $300 in cash and more in support to Goode's campaign.

"We don't have the resources behind us to get into the race," she said. "I had no money and no resources with money and that really made it difficult for me to be more out there. . . . Molonai gave me 300 bucks. He almost had me wanting to switch parties."


E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com